YouTube is an endless source of examples of public speaking. One of the most famous formats based on speeches is TED: both the official TED conferences and the other events, independently organized by volunteers all around the world. Considering that the YouTube channels dedicated to TED and TEDx include more than 120 thousand talks, we are just spoilt for choice.
What do you expect when you listen to a TED talk? Inspiration, food for thought, ideas worth spreading… but also some entertainment. If you’re looking for a short and fun video, my suggestion will be How to Sound Smart in Your TEDx Talk, that actor and performer Will Stephen delivered at TEDxNewYork in November 2014.
Apart from being entertaining, this speech shows how it is possible to keep talking for 5:35 minutes, following all the rules of public speaking, saying absolutely nothing. Stephen uses various techniques all along the talk, from body language to vocal variety, but there are two main elements that caught my attention.
From object to prop
A trick I like in this speech is the strategic use of a prop (the glasses). At the beginning, we don’t even consider them as a prop – he is simply a guy with glasses. Stephen mentions them for the first time at 1:10, and only in this moment we realize that he is wearing them. But we still cannot imagine how he is going to use them later, and in the following 3:30 minutes we almost forget about them. Then, at 4:50, he explains that they are not even real glasses, but just frames. Only at this point the object becomes a real prop.
Which is the difference? An object can be on stage all the time, without any use (a chair, the remote control in the hand of the speaker); we don’t pay attention to it. Instead, a prop has a specific role in the speech such as, in this case, to trigger humor. Stephen realizes the transformation from object to prop effectively in three steps: he makes us notice them, then convinces us they’re just an object, and eventually surprises us by turning them into a prop.
New picture or no picture
When using visual aids, Stephen shows something that is in fashion these days: words, paired with vaguely thought-provoking stock photos. Since everyone says wordy slides are not effective, from motivational speeches to corporate presentations, we all moved to minimalistic, one-picture slides. As I’m not a huge fan of slides at all, I like Stephen’s message here: sometimes we see trendy words and pictures paired beautifully… but do they mean something?
Regardless of whether it includes charts, words or artsy pictures, before adding the umpteenth slide to our presentation we should always ask: do we need it? Can our words, voice and presence convey this message without the help of this slide? If the answer is yes, we shall skip it. Instead, if we need the picture to make our message more memorable, we should be sure that it reaches this goal: let’s surprise the audience and avoid combinations of words and images that they have seen already. If we want to enhance our message about “synergies”, we’d better look for something less obvious than a photo of cheesy, handsome, smiling people sitting around a computer.
At the end of Will Stephen’s talk – maybe, just maybe, we will feel like we’ve learned something. At least, something about props and visual aids. And even that, if you know how to do it, you can talk for five entire minutes just about nothing.
(Image by Gerd Altmann on Pixabay)